Honda Love, BMW EEh, And Other Rants and Raves in This Months Letter From Europe


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Letter From Europe
By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel

Spent an amazing day in Honda’s Accord Coupe EX-V6. It isn’t very often that I pick up the phone to the PR man in charge to rave about his product but consider this. It was a glorious sunny Sunday morning and I was on my way to Alameda to see one of the America Cup entries . Called Artemis, it is the Swedish entry. Took some pictures of the Honda alongside, just as sleek as each other. In fact the two might even be similar in acceleration from 0-40 miles per hour. 72 feet long with a crew of 11, it is the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. Even Craig, a veteran of 22 years of Ocean racing admitted that it gets rather exciting at times.

Many of you will have seen the title holder Oracle’s boat floating upside down under the Golden Gate bridge with the crew hanging on for dear life either in the sea or on what was left of the boat . No wonder they all carry three (!) knives and a little oxygen container on their backs in case they got stuck under the trampoline. Plus full Kevlar suits and the latest, toughest crash helmets. Amazing stuff.

But back to the Honda. Cruising in the couple I kept thinking of my epic trip to Monaco in the NSX about 16 years ago. With the Ferrari 328GTS to keep the Honda Company a wonderful time was had by all. My old friend and all time hero Ayrton Senna helped to develop the NSX and it showed. How good was Senna? Once he hit a guard rail during practice. The crew asked what happened. He said the Armco moved. They thought he was crazy. After practice they went to have a look at the Armco and sure enough another driver a few laps earlier nudged it out of position! That is why Ayrton who was accurate to a millimeter scraped his wheel.

The latest coupe with the V6 engine comes in at around 30 thousand dollars but it feels a lot more expensive. In fact the coupe was just one of the Hondas/Acuras I have had a chance to drive of late and probably my favorite. I am not a huge fan of Honda’s 2.4 liter 185 horsepower engine in the 2013 CR-V5DR AWD as I found it gutless. This is a Mum’s special and as such I suppose it depends how many children and dogs you have. Might be OK with cocker spaniels but with Labradors it would be a different matter. At 30 thousand dollars the CR-V is competitive, in fact on Highway 101 there are huge numbers of them either dropping off or collecting little Johnnies from school. The fuel consumption is a nothing to write home about at 25 miles per gallon and the smog rating is a not too impressive 5 out of the maximum 10.

The Acura 2013 ILX was a fine but not exceptional product. I am finding the difference between the various Hondas and Acuras less and less, the company should look to Nissan and Infiniti where the differences in looks and equipment are much wider. As for styling, here again I think Honda are falling behind. Mind you, there are literally millions and millions of Hondas on the roads all over the World so maybe styling is no big deal, as Honda’s reliability is second to none and that of course is considerably more important. The ILX costs just over 31 thousand dollars and does an average of 28 miles per gallon. All in all both Honda and Acura make fine if unexciting products. I think their V6 is a much better proposition especially as the price difference is minimal as is the difference in fuel consumption. It is also silky smooth. Which is precisely why it was such a delight to take the 2013 RDX AWD to Lake Tahoe. Uphill, downhill, on Highway 80, it was a sheer delight. Very comfortable, delivering a comfortable 28 miles per gallon I would have no hesitation in recommending it anyone. At around 40 thousand dollars it is good value and will probably run for ever. The 6 year powertrain warranty speaks for itself.

What really excites me about Honda is that they may come back into Grand Prix racing with McLaren. The new rules would suit the company well and as if they didn’t know they have a fan base of monumental proportions. As do Fiat and more especially Ferrari who are part of the company. Now Fiat, in their wisdom have decided that it was high time to take on BMW”s Mini. Yes, I know it is built in Oxford, England but is it owned by the company in Munich. Still, that is irrelevant to the average punter who is looking for a small car. Mini have been a huge success in the States so it was logical for Fiat to have a go. They have expanded their range which includes the 1.4 liter Abarth, a company famous for its racing heritage. Well, to be honest I am not sure that it is very relevant. Lots of noise, a so-so 5 speed stick shift, a truly awful sound system, lots of silly knobs, in a word not my cup of tea. The five speed manual would be exceptionally impractical on the streets of San Francisco so here is my solution. Get the less powerful full automatic little 500 with a sunroof and have fun. The car is nimble, easy to park and people in general love it. Forget all the vroom, vroom, at least in San Francisco. And remember, the price difference between the 500 Pop and the Abarth is 10 thousand dollars! The Pop is just as nimble and you could have a first class trip to Italy on the difference! And by the way the TomTom which was fitted to the Abarth is a total waste of time. You put your destination into your iPhone and listen. Furthermore it will not obscure the view.

On the face of it the 101 thousand dollar 2013 BMW 640i Gran Coupe is every dashing executive’s dream. I must admit this is not a dream I wholeheartedly share. Dynamically 100 per cent but as for that gearbox and the constant deluge of bells and warnings drove me insane. Do this, do that, observe this, observe that-dear BMW: people who can afford one hundred thousand dollars for an automobile are not third graders. Chances are they are successful businessmen, doctors or lawyers so not only can they drive but in all probability have been doing so for many many years. So cut it out. Chill.

I have driven just about every BMW from the 1 series to the X5 and this is the first time I came away disappointed.

I am afraid to charge 24 thousand dollars for extras on the base price of 76 is way over the top. And yet I am obviously in a minority as the company’s sales are at an all-time high. But getting back to the 640. The engine, the 3 liter turbo is just fine, it made all the right noises and it made you forget the previous, awesome 4.4 V8. For a company with a tag line-The Ultimate Driving Machine-it has a lot to live up to and the 640 certainly delivers. Quick with correspondingly fine 4-wheel ventilated disc brakes as I’ve said before once the bells stop ringing the car is a delight. But, when it is all said and done give me a 5 series diesel and I’ll be happy. It is as simple as that.

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